What Warblers?

Trip Start Jan 05, 2012
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

We'd paid for bed and breakfast so despite the late 'night' we were up and about in plenty of time to enjoy it, which we did. At £70 a night the George & Dragon was not fantastic value but it was alright. We’d read one or two negative reviews (and some positive ones) before we booked and we didn’t notice anything that justified them. We’d stay there again if there wasn’t much choice but we’ve stayed in nicer places in Chester for less money.

We were soon speeding westwards along the A55 (well I say speeding, from time to time we were held up on what should really be a fast road by some thoughtless driving) and before too long we were pulling off at the Abergwngregyn exit, between Llanfairfechan and Aberystwyth. Continuing along the single track road beyond the tiny village we reached the car park for the Aber Falls which was about as full as I’d ever seen it. The weather was looking promising – not quite a fine May day but at least getting there – so we gathered up our gear and set of for the shortish but mainly uphill walk to the waterfall.

The lovely oak wood that occupies the valley floor and lower slopes of the Carneddau mountains here was the site for my next 'banker’ bird species, Wood Warbler. This small warbler specialises in this kind of environment and is seldom seen in the UK in other habitats. Although they are seldom common it is usually quite easy to track on down in the spring because of their distinctive song which is often likened to the sound a coin makes when it is coming to rest after having been spun on a table-top. With Pied Flycatchers and Common Redstarts also partial to this sort of woodland we hoped that we might be in for a bit of a birding treat.

I hadn’t been up here for some years and one of the first things that I noticed was that the path that used to take you above the stream on the west side was no more. The area is part of a National Nature Reserve so perhaps this has been to control damage to the area but this path was where I always used to find Wood Warblers.

From the main path, Wood Warblers were going to be more difficult and we would have to rely on call to help us find one. We stopped and listened at several likely places but we had no luck. There were lots of Redstarts – probably more than I’ve seen anywhere else and numerous Garden Warblers, one of which posed obligingly for photos on the way back down, but no Wood Warblers and even more surprisingly, no Pied Flycatchers either.

Following the endless rains of April and early May, the waterfall, most correctly called Rhaeadr Fawr was in fine fettle, with the 120 tall line of white water easily visible from a distance along the footpath which passes an excavated Bronze Age roundhouse and a small interpretive centre. There were several birdwatchers near the falls and one of them told us that they had just been watching two male and one female Ring Ouzels flying in front of the falls between trees on both sides of the valley. There’s a nicely positioned bench overlooking the falls so we sat there to wait but after 10 minutes gave up because there weren’t even any Wheatears about. There was, however, a Cuckoo so we had our bird of the week.

Waterfalls are often not as good close up but it seemed churlish not to follow the path to the end so we did and whilst doing so noted a blackbird-sized bird fly into a small bush on the scree slope on the east side of the falls. We had a long wait before we saw anything else (and it really was a small bush) but after a while two birds flew out and away, across the slope. We got just enough on them to be sure that they were Ring Ouzels.
Retracing our steps to the car park we remembered what a good idea it is to take food and drink with you when walking in the hills. Fortunately the weather remained in a sort of ‘ok’ zone, neither one thing nor the other really - sort of pleasant without ever looking like it was going to turn into a beautiful spring day – which at least meant that we weren’t getting parched. When driving through Abergwngregyn village we’d noticed a café and there were spaces on the small car park when we got there so we gave it a try. I had a couple of slices of Welsh Rarebit (oddly the menu, which is available in both Welsh and English shows the words "Welsh Rarebit" in the Welsh version which leads me to suspect that this is not the traditional Cambrian delicacy that I thought it was) which turned out to be quite substantial and Julie had a baked potato with chilli. I got the better half of the deal. A cake seemed excessive afterwards but fortunately they offered a take-away service so Julie took a piece of flapjack away with here whilst I tucked a chunk of Lemon Drizzle Cake into my pocket.

Next stop was The Spinnies NR at Aberogwen, which has already been mentioned in this blog as one of my favourite reserves. Quite quiet, really and yet again no Kingfisher. Having seen more than 170 bird species in the UK so far this year and having visited numerous locations where Kingfishers are present, not seeing one so far was beginning to feel like quite an achievement.

From the Spinnies we set off homewards, calling in at Llandulas first, where there was virtually nothing offshore and then a bit further along the coast where it was much the same.

I’d read on northwalesbirding.co.uk that someone had seen Dippers, another species that had been eluding us all year at a site near Wrexham that was only a few miles from our route back to Shrewsbury. As we didn’t have exact details of the location it took us a couple of attempts but after a drive down a very narrow and steep road and then a drive back up it to find somewhere to park, followed by a walk down the same road we found something of a hidden gem, a 17th century packhorse birdge over the River Alun which probably receives very few tourists form one week to the next but if it was located in a more fashionable (or accessible) area would probably be much more well known. We’d barely set foot on the bridge when a streak of electric blue passed under one of the seven (7!) arches of the bridge right beneath us to disappear further up river. A Kingfisher at last. Seconds later we located the first of two Dippers on a bend that was just too far away for a decent photograph. Mission accomplished.

A win in the quiz at The Beacon topped off a successful weekend.
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